The Doctor and Steven arrive in a place the Doctor quickly figures out is sixteenth century Paris. Right away the Doctor wants to try to meet Charles Preslin, a famous apothecary (sort of the early modern equivalent of a pharmacist). Unknown to them they’ve arrived at one of the worst possible times to be in Paris this side of 1792; Huguenot noblemen are staying in the city to celebrate the wedding between the Protestant leader Henri of Navarre and the French princess Marguerite de Valois, and tensions are running high between the Huguenots and Catholics. Not knowing this, the Doctor reluctantly agrees to let Steven go sightseeing while he tries to find Preslin, but makes Steven promise not to talk to anyone unless he must. However, once the Doctor leaves Steven accidentally disobeys by getting into an argument with a bartender, which leads to him befriending a Huguenot named Nicholas. Meanwhile the Doctor finds Preslin, who is in hiding and is terrified of being persecuted by agents of the Abbot of Amboise, and encourages his research in science.
Nicholas offers shelter to a frightened servant girl, Anne Chaplet, who fled the service of her master, the Abbot, who had heard a rumor that there was going to be a massacre of Huguenots in Paris. To protect her, she is sent to work for the prominent Huguenot Admiral de Coligny; Nicholas also brings Steven to stay the night at Coligny’s quarters, in order to save him from being arrested for breaking the curfew. The next day Steven arouses Nicholas’ suspicious when he mistakes the Abbot for the Doctor, who are both dead ringers for each other. At least Nicholas agrees to help Steven find the Doctor, but has suspicions that Steven is a Catholic spy, which are exasperated when it turns out that Preslin has been missing for years. Steven escapes and tries to make his way to the Abbot, whom he’s convinced is the Doctor in disguise, and winds up embroiled in politics when he overhears members of the royal council discussing an order from the queen mother Catherine de’ Medicis to assassinate someone codenamed the “Sea Beggar,” who turns out to be Coligny.
Steven meets up with Anne, who was thrown out for continuing to defend Steven. Anne and Steven hide out in Preslin’s abandoned home while events spiral out of control. Steven, still thinking that the Doctor has been posing as the Abbot, becomes distraught when he learns that the Abbot has been murdered. The Doctor finally shows up and, knowing that the assassination of Coligny will soon spark the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, wants to leave as soon as possible. Afraid of changing history, the Doctor, despite Steven’s pleas, refuses to invite Anne to join them in the TARDIS, but he does try to help her figure out where to go for safety. Once they escape back to the TARDIS on the eve of the massacre, Steven berates the Doctor for abandoning Anne and vows to leave at the next place they stop: London in 1966. True to his word, Steven abandons a morose Doctor, who is surprised by a young woman named Dodo who thought the TARDIS was an actual police box. Soon Steven rushes in, warning the Doctor that policemen are approaching the TARDIS. Delighted by both Dodo’s resemblance to Susan and Steven’s return, the Doctor launches the TARDIS without warning. Dodo accepts events anyway since she has almost no family to speak of. When Dodo reveals that her last name is “Chaplet”, Steven gladly takes it as proof (albeit not very good proof) that Anne survived the Massacre after all.
From what I can tell, there never actually was a sixteenth century scientist named Charles Preslin, much less one who contributed toward finding observable proof of germ theory. Nevertheless the Doctor refers to a German who is working on a device that Preslin would use to see germs. I think this is a reference to Zacharias Jansen, who, depending on who you ask, is the inventor of the microscope, but who was actually Dutch. Anyway, microorganisms weren’t actually seen until 1676, about a century after this story takes place.
After Steven leaves, the Doctor muses, “Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet, but I can’t. I can’t!” Of course, we don’t know if he means he can’t because of the TARDIS’ technical problems or because of the consequences.
It’s not at all made clear why the Doctor refuses to bring Anne Chaplet in the TARDIS (besides, of course, the desire of the showrunners not to have another Katarina). Apparently the Doctor is afraid that Anne was meant to die in the Massacre, but even then it raises the question of why he hasn’t had any qualms about plucking people out of their native times before.
Finally, we have the first appearance of Dodo Chaplet, who is sort of notorious among “Doctor Who” fans. We’ll wait and see why…
I wish I had a more elaborate and spot-on criticism, but I really don’t know what to say except that this serial is boring. In its defense you could say it suffers from being one of the few serials from which not a single second of footage survives, but certainly the serial “Marco Polo” got around that handicap. Honestly I can’t imagine any way to make an engaging serial out of this topic; I find the subject of the French Wars of Religion to be complex and I’m supposed to specialize in French history. So instead of relying on seeing the Doctor and Steven get tangled up with historical events, we have lengthy and really uninteresting scenes with characters essentially explaining the history in a mostly flavorless way. Even Catherine de’ Medici doesn’t stand out. Queen Margot this ain’t, and I’m actually stunned that this serial was delivered by the same screenwriter who wrote “The Aztecs” and “Marco Polo.”
There is one element that makes this fun, though, and that’s seeing William Hartnell play another role as the Abbot, but unfortunately even then he doesn’t get to accomplish or just say much. Something else for the plus column is that Steven’s character really does seem well-developed by this point. It’s nice to have a companion always ready and willing to challenge the Doctor, as I said, and seeing him berate the Doctor for abandoning Anne is a welcome look back at the morally ambiguous Doctor from the show’s beginning. Otherwise, though, this season continues what has so far been (with the exception of “The Myth Makers”) a lackluster season.